By Fr George Adimike
The Onitsha Archdiocesan family has the pleasure and honour of celebrating the 40th priestly anniversary of her Shepherd, His Grace, The Most Reverend Valerian Maduka Okeke, by the grace of God the Archbishop of Onitsha and the Metropolitan of Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province.
The ramifications of these 40 years of falling for divine seduction (cf. Jer. 20:7) spell grace. It’s an acknowledgement and a celebration of the power and triumph of God’s grace in the ministry of Fr Valerian Maduka Okeke these 40 years.
This jubilee glorifies God for and celebrates the zeal and singleness of purpose of Fr Val in the Basilica of the Most Holy Trinity, Onitsha (1981–1983); the concrete manifestation of pastoral solicitude, spiritual fervour and moral leadership in Umuoji (1983–1986); the all-round academic excellence and personal discipline of the student Fr Val in Rome (1986 –1990); a witness-teacher, an erudite professor and a dedicated formator in Bigard Memorial Seminary Enugu (1990 –1996) and a visionary and transformative leader-Rector who took Bigard to a great heights to the marvel and admiration of many within and outside the Seminary, including the Church authorities in Rome.
There is no gain listing the landmark manifestations of the grace, which caused the progress. But suffice it to mention that the construction of both human and physical infrastructures reached an impressive and enviable level of depths and heights. How can one forget in a hurry the damming of a stream at the circumference of the Seminary to give water to the Seminary and neighbours when such an idea was a breakthrough, establishing a Digital Centre with about 40 Computers when owning a PC was considered a luxury a few elite and scholars can afford? Indeed, how can one forget the famous Bigard FIFA field? I did not forget that I vowed not to attempt to list because I will certainly do a disservice to the grace-accomplishments. Yet, it is worth mentioning that his pride is the quality of products, priests and ex-seminarians alike, who benefited from his moral, academic and spiritual formative programs. We are celebrating the explosion of grace-impacts, indeed achievements in all fields as the Archbishop of Onitsha. Without a sufficient awareness of the ramifications of his gratitude principle, the temptation will be to focus on the pastoral fruits, forgetting their spiritual roots and reach. These grace-impacts express the beatitude that his life and ministry progressively embody and well up as the visible expression of gratitude to God.
As such, all his achievements in the pastoral, spiritual and infrastructural spheres bear the mark of grace and gratitude, and offer the key for their evaluation. In other words, the pastoral solicitude of Archbishop Valerian Okeke, which derives from his passionate love for God funds his drive for the salvation of souls and touches the multidimensionality of life. Rooted in the awareness that the promise in each man outweighs the poverty of his context, he gives himself in oblation to draw the flock of Christ to the fountain of the living water (cf. John 4:13-14) so that they will savour the fullness of life (cf. John 10:10). The sheen of his ministry is sufficiently God-glorifying and man-edifying. Within these years of Episcopal Ministry, he pursues aggressively with tremendous level of success and enviable mark of excellence the spiritual and pastoral transformation, development of infrastructures, instruments of evangelization and self-sustenance, and overall human capital development. And truth be told, through the instrumentality of the Archbishop, there are undeniable huge dividends to the glory of God and common good.
Indeed, with an absolute trust in God’s grace, elastic capacity for possibilities narrates the essence and existence of the priestly ministry of Archbishop Valerian Okeke these four decades, such that he unleashes all his many gifts, all the ecclesial institutional structures and all the spiritual treasures on the spiritual development, human capital development, servicing the structures that serve man in his spiritual and material wellbeing and harnessing of his potentials. Turning the possibilities into actualities and thus creating capitals out of human resources to create a just society and populate heaven with souls has driven his pastoral engagement these two score years.
Essentially, drawing from his vision of man’s transcendence as an image of God, fallen and redeemed by Christ, he makes gratitude the cardinal fulcrum of his worldview. He has instilled it as the reason of worship and existence. Keynoting love as the oil that fuels and lubricates his pastoral ministry, he leaves no stone unturned for the welfare of the flock of Christ, serving them as a servant, being accountable as a steward and protecting and defending them as a shepherd. In all, he operates with the principle of methodic trust that forgives and offers a second chance, knowing full well that with grace the journey of a destiny will not end up becoming a wandering in space and time without destination. Without being a belligerent critic, he has kept his moral voice alive, echoing the truth that stirs the consciences of the leaders and citizens alike. He intervenes as a great moral voice reminding us of the meaning of life.
A careful and thorough reading of his pastoral letters reveals the deep-seated yearnings and aspirations that drive his pastoral initiatives. Archbishop Valerian believes that the face of the earth would be renewed if the lives of Christians correspond to the life of Christ and he is convinced that one of the best routes to achieve this is sound catechesis. Thus, his Pastoral Letters can be best be described as a simple handbook on the way of love, testament of faith, and an embodiment and loving expression of his own life. This is the legacy for which he will be remembered forever. It is an invitation to us to follow suit in the life of love of God and neighbour. These pastoral letters include the following: That they may have life (2004), The Measure of love (2005), Our Glorious Heritage (2005), If only you have faith (2006), Go Make Disciples of All Nations (2006), You and the Common Good (2007), The Family and Human Life (2008), Our Greatest Legacy (2009), The Splendour of Prayer (2010), Gratitude (2011), The dignity of human Labour (2012), Living Hope (2013), Christian Education and National Development (2014), Democracy and Christian Values (2015), Blessed are the Merciful (2016), Blessed are the Peacemakers (2017), Mary Our Mother (2018), The Holy Eucharist: Our Strength, (2019), The Sacraments: Our Treasure (2020) and The priesthood: Gift and Sacrifice (2021).
With millions of faithful and friends, may I wish you many more fruitful and gracefilled years in the Lord’s vineyard. Congratulations Your Grace!
Fr George ADIMIKE